Southern Universities Network (SUN)

AECC students on Bournemouth beach
Southern Universities Network (SUN)
Web app
Learning resources
User testing
Universities and HE
Schools and MATs

As part of Southern Universities Network’s (SUN's) outreach programme, IE Digital created – an engaging, interactive resource to help year 10 & 11 students with the transition to college and university.

Based at the University of Southampton, SUN is a partnership of universities and higher education (HE) colleges in Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. They work with 101 schools and all further education (FE) colleges in the region, and are tasked with increasing HE participation from those schools, as part of the Office for Students’ National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

UniExplorer – made up of the CampusExplorer and MoneyExplorer tools – can be used in conjunction with university outreach workshops to help students make decisions about university and explore the various aspects of university life. UniExplorer is an invaluable tool to help students get to grips with unfamiliar terms and the financial aspects to consider before taking the decision to apply for university.

Visit the UniExplorer website

SUN website on tablet
SUN website on desktop
Removing barriers to Higher Education

SUN is a university outreach programme that is working to increase the number of young people that go onto higher education, from disadvantaged or underrepresented groups.

In order to meet the UK government’s social mobility goals, SUN delivers a programme of outreach with schools and FE colleges in the south of England. For the many young people who may not ordinarily consider university as an option – largely due to a lack of confidence rather than a lack of ability – the outreach programme demystifies university life. Often these are young people whose parents and other community role models have had no experience of university. They need support to remove some of the potential barriers to further study, and make the right choices for their future. 

'Sticky' content for improved learning

SUN wanted to create an impartial, interactive resource that could be used within a classroom environment with students aged 14-16. 

They briefed IE Digital to create an interactive campus map to enable students to explore what life in higher education is like, through teacher-led sessions and individual study. The app was also to include an element of gamification, as well as enabling users to access video content.


Real student stories

From SUN’s original brief we developed the idea further. For the ‘stickiest’ learning experience we recommended putting real students at the centre of the user journey so that young people could hear relevant, real-world examples from their slightly older peers. To personalise the experience for each user we also proposed a Notebook feature, which would encourage learners to reflect on what they’ve seen and form their own opinions.

SUN planned sketches
SUN website on tablet
I really enjoyed working with IE. My digital consultant has been brilliant, making excellent suggestions and being very responsive to our needs. The end result is superb and I’d highly recommend IE’s digital team.
Claire O'Neill, Head of the Southern Universities Network, University of Southampton
SUN website on a tablet
Personalising the user experience

IE Digital created an interactive, modular, tablet-based tool – UniExplorer. 

UniExplorer began with the CampusExplorer module, which features a ‘virtual campus map’. Students can explore the map to find out about different aspects of university life, from lecture theatres and libraries to sports and social activities.


Interactivity, personalisation and deep-dive content

The map acts as a gateway to rich, deep-dive, multimedia content. We included the voices of real students, communicating through photos, video profiles, career-focused interviews with graduates, and testimonials. The online Notebook functionality allows users to clip the content to save it for later, or email information to themselves as a PDF.

As part of the development process we involved 30 local Year 10 pupils to test the module.

A subsequent redesign of CampusExplorer has introduced 8-bit game style graphics and characters you can lead around the map to talk to other students, explore the facilities and learn about life at university. 


Budgeting game for Higher Education

In a second phase of development we added the MoneyExplorer module. This offers a wealth of impartial information about budgeting for Higher Education and helps students to develop crucial money management skills. 

Used in conjunction with 60-minute MoneyExplorer workshops led by the SUN outreach team, the app helps students to understand the living costs and funding options involved in going to university, in an engaging and rewarding way. It gives users a reality check, comparing what they THINK something might cost, versus the ACTUAL costs, looking at key expenses such as tuition fees and study aids, accommodation and travel costs, plus social life and treats. 

Students earn trophies as they progress through the app, and gradually build up a picture of their overall income and expenditure, identifying where additional financial support, such as a part time job, may help.

Ongoing digital and design support

IE continues to host and support the UniExplorer app, including security updates and amendments to comply with the new GDPR regulations. 

To support the app and SUN’s workshops in schools, IE designed a set of teaching resources and worksheets for students, in keeping with the look of the app. 

Because UniExplorer is unbranded and not specific to any university or region, it’s also attracted interest for use by schools in London other regions.

30 local year 10 pupils involved in testing the UniExplorer and MoneyExplorer tools
50 pages of in-depth content created on university life and graduate success stories
101 schools (year 9-11) offered MoneyExplorer workshops